Sermon For December 1, 2013 ~ First Sunday Of Advent

Genesis 1:1-5 ~ Matthew 1:17 – 2:25

“Discover The Light: The Light Brings Hope – From Start To Finish”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Blog:

I would like to begin our journey to Discover The Light this Advent Season with a story about baptism.  This is perhaps a seemingly odd place to begin the holiday, but stay with me.

baby_7518cnIn my previous parish I remember having a conversation with a woman, a young parent, about the baptism of her new baby.  Now, at the parish where I served prior to Franklin Circle the Elders had made the decision, after much study and prayer, to honor the decision of a family if they chose to have their baby baptized, as opposed to the more common manner for Disciples, which is to offer it when a person is older, as a teenager or adult.  In any case this woman was sharing with me her reasons for wanting to have her infant baptized.

I recall it was a hearty child, and so this conversation was taking place almost a year or more after the infant’s birth.  As we talked about the date of the service I began to hear a growing frantic tone to the woman’s voice and began to pick up some odd cues.  Finally, I asked her point blank: “Do you think your child is going to hell if for some horrible reason she dies before being baptized?”  The woman’s eyes filled up with tears and she blurted out, “Yes!”  So I calmed her down and assured her that her baby was already quite blessed and that the God we worshipped and adored was not in the business of condemning innocent children to the place we call “hell” anymore than God is in the business of selling cheap sofas or dining room tables!

Jesus Reason OrnamentsSo I ponder as this Advent season begins how we got into the position of becoming so certain that anywhere God – and more pointedly God-in-Christ – is not explicitly named and claimed that there isn’t simply a void, but the antithesis to goodness: evil.  Why do we somehow thinkthat there are places where God is not – or at least we act like that is so.  Let’s connect this directly to Christmas.  There has been a growing movement in our culture for Christians to feel the need to reclaim December 25 for Christ.  The two slogans that define this are: “Keep Christ In Christmas” and “Jesus Is The Reason For The Season.”  The made-up dilemma also rears its ugly head in the nasty attacks that some people make on folks who wish them a “Happy Holiday” as opposed to a “Merry Christmas.”  It is almost as if some folks believe that if we don’t revive our “brand” and saturate the market with our “branding,” the competitor will snatch our sales away.  We may very well be in danger o

Keep Christ In Christmas

f losing the essence of Christ in Christmas, but it has far less to do with the words we use than our actions.  The shopping madness we saw this last weekend, the crushing pressures of holiday parties, and the anxieties around pleasing families and friends can do in a Christian as much as a non-Christian!

I say it in that way because, much like the conversation about children going to hell before they were baptized reveals more about the hunger for power by the clergy and the need to make families dependent upon the services of the church, the remarketing of Christ-in-Christmas seems to be more about selling t-shirts and cast resin trinkets than it is to get folks to live a more simple, loving, and Christ-like lifestyle this season.  My greatest fear is that if we spend all our time looking for where Christ isn’t, we will miss looking for where Christ is!  Isn’t that one of the central themes of the original story?  Everyone was awaiting a Messiah who would swoop in like a mighty warrior or a powerful king to save the people, all the while the true messiah was a vulnerable babe born to peasant parents in a stable borrowed for the night.  King Herod feared the competing powers of a newborn king, but it took foreigners following a star in the dead of night to pay homage to the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

Even Jesus knew that there was nothing magical in saying his name!  In Luke 6 he sternly reminds his followers, “‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and do not do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them.”

And in Matthew 7 he warns, “‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”  Personally I would far prefer a heartfelt “Happy Holiday” from someone who had shunned the commercialization and consumerism of the season than a loud “Merry Christmas” from someone who was consumed by consuming and failed to see her or his neighbor in need.

This year we have chosen as our theme for Advent Discover The Light Of Christ and each week we will weave together classic scriptures about light with the Gospel’s Christmas story.  So today, we begin at the very beginning [which is a very good place to start.]  Creation begins with the separation of the heavens from the earth and shortly thereafter God creates light.  Genesis 1 reports that upon the creation of light, God saw that the light was “good.”  Period.  Nothing named as evil, just light as “good.”  One of the unfortunate tendencies in human thinking and conversing is to assume that if one thing in a pair is good, the other must be bad.  In scholarly terms this is a logical fallacy called “affirming a disjunct.”  “A or B.  A.  Therefore, it is not the case that B.”  That is a logical fallacy.  Throughout scripture we hear named “light” as good, and therefore assume that “darkness” is bad, only with terrible consequences.

planting_5928cIf, in fact, darkness is bad then one has just condemned half of our earth’s time into the depths of evil.  One can see how this very easily rolls right into racism, where the lighter the skin is the more holy one is, and the darker the skin is the more evil one is.  This is not only logically false but morally repugnant.  From the vantage point of nature the darker the soil is the more likely it is fertile and good for growing.  It is in the darkest part of the night that we sleep the deepest and get the healing rest we need.  It is in the darkness of the womb that new life has the chance to form and grow prior to being birthed into the light.  Darkness can be as holy as light is, and evil can be fostered in the brightest daylight as the darkest night.

Kells Geneology Of Christ

Kells Geneology Of Christ

I just love the fact that the gospel of Matthew begins with the genealogy tracing Jesus back to Adam and Eve.  Chapter 1 of Matthew is made fun of at times because it is such an exhaustive list, is gerrymandered a bit for the storyteller’s purposes, and includes some notorious figures from Hebrew Scriptures woven in.  But I love it because it reminds us that what Christ was was something as old and familiar and present throughout history as Christ was something new and different.  The gospel-writer John says the same thing, only in more poetic terms: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.” John 1:1-2

The image that kept coming to mind all week long for me was the closing scenes in the Broadway musical “Pippin.”  After exploring life from almost every vantage point, Pippin comes to the end of the play and is urged to conclude with the most grand finale, his own death.  Pippin resists and the Leading Player and Fastrada get angry and send the actors away and take down the set.  singlebarebulbstagePippin, along with Catherine, and her son Theo are left on a bare stage with only the utility light to illuminate their final dialogue.  It is here that Pippin realizes the simple life he had with Catherine and Theo, while confining, was still the most fulfilling.  All the glare of the bright lights that he had seen throughout his life was not as compelling as the simple, plain, humble light of love from those who loved who he was, not what he could do to, for, or with them.

As we begin Advent today, literally on the first day of December, let us look for the light, but never, never disparage the dark.  Let us take our cue from St. Augustine who said, “Preach the gospel boldly, and if necessary, use words.”  What if we spent less time chastising folks for saying “Happy Holidays!” and actually hear that they are taking the time, energy, and kindness to wish us a HAPPY HOLIDAY!?  What if we spent less money on “Jesus Is The Reason For The Season” paraphernalia and gave some of that money to overnight shelters like Metanoia or crisis nurseries like Providence House?

candlebyAllenVHarrisLet us not be like the mother who was so worried her child would die in sin that she risked seeing her babe as the beautiful child of God she already was!  What if we cleared away the overwhelming stuff of our lives – and particularly of this season – and saw by the simple single light of God the goodness of humanity and the love of God born anew this season and every day when we live as honestly, humbly, and faithfully as we can?  For the light is already there and it is not ours to keep alit.  The light has been with us from the beginning, it is with us now, and it will be with us long after our holiday celebrations are over.  And for that, I give God thanks and praise!